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Venezuelan educator receives public service prize

| Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Music educator José Antonio Abreu received the final Notre Dame Prize for Distinguished Public Service in Latin America. Abreu was awarded the prize on Sept. 22 at a private on-campus ceremony.

The award spotlights those who have made a large impact in the lives of citizens of Latin America, Paolo G. Carozza, director of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, said.

“Since 2000, in partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation, we have presented this distinctive award to a dozen distinguished Latin American leaders in recognition of their efforts to enhance the region’s public welfare,” Carozza said. “The Notre Dame Prize celebrates the significant role visionary public figures play in strengthening democracy and improving the well-being of citizens across Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The criteria for the award include visionary leadership, distinction in public service and advancement of the well-being of the citizens of Latin America, Carmen-Helena Téllez, professor of conducting, said.

“Abreu was chosen because he has matched these criteria in an unexpected field, that of classical music. He created a network of youth orchestras in Venezuela, now colloquially known in the U.S. as El Sistema,” Téllez said. “Through this network, Abreu offers young people under trying circumstances of poverty and crime an avenue for survival and self-determination through the discipline and camaraderie of orchestral practice.”

El Sistema has had a huge social as well as artistic impact in Latin America, Téllez said.

“Many people today say that Abreu not only saved young people from a life of criminality, but also saved classical music from being considered irrelevant by certain pockets of society,” Téllez said. “Many think classical music is elitist, but they forget that the greatest classical composers have been humanitarians or defenders of human dignity, and art is one of the tools of expression of the spirit. Abreu instills these values through his work.”

The goals of Abreu’s work and that of the Kellog Institute are the same, Téllez said.

“As a Latin American artist and economist, Abreu represents a geographical area of research for the Kellogg Institute,” Téllez said. “The Kellogg has become very important for its study of democracy and social advancement in the region. Abreu’s work addresses these areas with unexpected tools and extraordinary results, and it is very fitting that the Kellogg institute has recognized his work.”

The award is the last of its kind, Carozza said.

“It is the last award because the entire initiative was funded by a large, multi-year grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation, and that funding has now been exhausted and not renewed,” Carozza said. “Note, however, that a few years ago we started giving a different recognition, the Notre Dame Award for International Human Development and Solidarity, and that is now going strong.”

Abreu’s work provides an example to students of how thinking outside the box can provide new and exciting ways to help others, Téllez said.

“I think that undergrads can learn that doing good and transforming lives and communities, even in extraordinary ways, can come through anything and everything that they are called to do in life, so long as it is done with passion and love for others,” Carozza said.

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About Kayla Mullen

Kayla is a senior political science major and the Managing Editor of The Observer. She hails from Philadelphia, PA and was previously a resident of Howard Hall.

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